CIGAR JACK INTERVIEWS CAO DIRECTOR OF LIFESTYLE MARKETING JON HUBER
I sat down with Jon Huber at the Rock and Rolled Tour kick off event at The Party Source, but had some problems with my audio equipment. Jon let me cal him up a couple of weeks later and we sat down to talk about the tour, the LX2 and a few other things.
Interview with Jon Huber of C.A.O.
I sat down with Jon Huber at the Rock and Rolled Tour kick off event at The Party Source, but had some problems with my audio equipment. Jon let me cal him up a couple of weeks later and we sat down to talk about the tour, the LX2 and a few other things.
Jesse: I’m here with Jon Huber. Due to a little problem we had with the audio recording the last time, he was nice enough to let me call him up and do another interview and talk about how the CAO Rock and Rolled Tour is going and Jon, you just want to let us know how it’s gone so far?
Jon: It is going very well thank you for asking. We’ve done 5 dates now? We’ve got 4 or 5 more to go so, we’ll be in Texas for 2 dates, and then New York, and then on to Boston and that wraps up October. Then, we’ll see how we’re doing. It’s been successful enough that we, Frank Kapp and I have been talking doing a second leg with a little bit of a different spin. Probably in January or February so hopefully we’ll bring out some more locations.
Jesse: Ok, I know you did really well at The Party Source event it was crazy.
Jon: Phenomenal! Yeah it was great, a really good turnout.
Jesse: I know I was watching everyone line up. I was surprised at how many people actually took the big
deal of 5 or 6 boxes of cigars, to get the guitar.
Jon: No kidding! Especially how we ran this whole thing blind. Usually like when we get in and start
promos, this is to digress a little bit, but you know, we have like, buy 3 cigars, get 1 cigar, buy a box get 7 cigars, that kind of thing. We’ve never really done something that’s geared entirely to box sales. So, you know, with the economy the way it is, and you know things are tighter all the way around, we didn’t really know what to expect, It had been basically just putting people into boxes. We were pleasantly surprised it made it up to, at the Party Source, between 180-200 boxes that went out in 3 hours. So it was pretty good.
Jesse: The last count I heard was 150, but I left early from the event.
Jon: Miguel and I went to dinner that night and when we were tallying everything up and it was so funny because we had run out of anything to write on, so we had written on this piece of paper, all these people’s phone numbers and this and that and everything, and so we were sitting down at dinner and we tallied it up and it was, best guesstimation was between 180 and 200 is what we finally ended up at. So yeah, very happy and very surprised. It’s been that way
consistently through the tour where, you know just depends on the size of the venue. If, you know, Party Source is great because they did it at the Beer Sellar and you had capacity for a couple hundred people there that night. We did a couple of stops in Virginia where we filled
the store with 50 people but it was elbow to elbow and people were standing outside of the store. But we still, you know, ratio wise, probably as many boxes even at a smaller venue. So it’s been fun. We’ve had a good time and it’s been very successful.
Jesse: Ah, yea one thing I’ve been kind of wanting to ask about is, I know I guess reading through the
history of CAO they kind of got their start in pipes. Wasn’t it?
Jon: Yeah, meerschaum pipes. In 1968, Cano, our founder, started importing, Meerschaum pipes. To go
even prior to that, his little entry into that industry was, creating a better tendon. There’s a tendon that
screws the pipe to the bowl. I never really got into pipes to be perfectly frank with you, but from that point it
kind of spawned into him importing and selling Meerschaum pipes and he went to the RTDA convention
one year, and, somebody came up to him and said, “Hey will you sign my pipe?”, so he said, “Yeah, I’ll
sign it.”, so he engraved it ‘CAO’, his initials, and that’s pretty much kind of how the company was named.
CAO, after Cano’s initials.
Jesse: Ok, yeah I was always kind of curious. I knew there was something else before cigars was how it had
gotten its start.
Jon: We’re all done with the pipe business but we got started in Meerschaum pipes and then, in the mid
80’s, many people won’t know this but Cano had a cigar called Casa de Manuel, a Costa Rican cigar. It
was, from what I’m told, just a terrible time for premium cigars and it just came and went unnoticed. And
then in about mid 94, early 95 is when he met, Carlos Torano and Nester Plasencia and that’s when they
started to, make a cigar called CAO Black, which was the original. That we came out with in 95, and that’s
pretty much how it all started. Even at that time we were still doing humidors. Humidors were a big part of
the CAO business. Even when I came on board in April of 96, we were still doing a lot of humidors. You
know, solid wood, made in Kentucky, and that was kind of like the claim to fame for CAO humidors was
that they were solid wood, made in the United States, and then soon thereafter, when the cigar boom hit,
everybody started outsourcing overseas, you really couldn’t compete with overseas production where
they’re making these beautiful laminate humidors for a fraction of the cost. And so, within probably 3-4
years after that we phased out humidors and became pretty much exclusively cigars.
Jesse: The CAO Black I know was the first cigar. What was it, the Gold that was, was that the second cigar?
Jon: Yeah, Gold was in 96, it was the first year I came on board. I started in April of 96 and we had just
come out with CAO Gold. Went to my first RTDA, just 2 months after I’d started, in Cincinnati, and we
just went to this trade show and took CAO Gold there. Talk about throwing somebody in the deep end. I
had no idea what the hell I was doing, and I just remember going to this huge trade show and meeting all
these guys I had been reading about in Cigar Aficionado, and it was just, interesting, to say the least.
Jesse: I feel like I’m kind of in the same boat now, I remember going to the first trade show and meeting all
these people I’d been reading about or talking about and now I’m actually getting a chance to sit down and
talk with them.
Jon: Fast forward a few years and it’ll be like an old hat. Still, even after 12 years I look forward to it every
year, you know, it’s the one time a year everybody gets together. Your friends and your colleagues,
everybody gets together and hang out for a week.
Jesse: I was reading about the CAO Parties and it sounds like that’s more stress than anything, planning
Jon: To be honest with you, a lot of people think that ‘how fun that is!’ and you’re in a half suite, and you’re with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and you know it all looks very nice from the outside looking in but what people don’t realize is that that’s something you have probably put 8-9 months of work into for, that culminates in like a 4 hour period and it’s over. I was having this conversation a week ago with somebody and I said, “I guess it’s like what happens if you’re planning a wedding, you know? You start your invite list, and all the little details, and the cake and the band, and this and that and then when it’s over you just have this, you’re empty and depressed like, now what?” The
party has been an interesting thing and taken on a life of its own. I think the first party we ever did was 1998, in Nashville, we had 400 people at the Hard Rock Café. It was just a couple of ice sculptures and a swing band and at that time we thought, “Wow! We really did something!” Now here we are with, 2,000-3,000 people, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and taking over a hotel, the
challenge becomes, how do you top that every year? So I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.
Jesse: So you’re still trying to come up with a way to top this one?
Jon: Well actually what I’ve told everybody and this is true, I said this year in New Orleans, we’re just
going to take our top 20 customers and go to the Olive Garden and everybody can have an all-you-can-eat
pasta bowl. *laughs*
Jesse: I get a feeling that you’ll be disappointing a few people there. *laughs*
Jon: When you think about it, how do you top you know, Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the Palms, and the pre-party,
and the post-party in the Hugh Heffner suite? I mean really, not to boast but it’s an epic evening that I’m
sure a lot of people are going to remember for a long time. But, it’s kind of hard to top that. There is a part
of me that wants to take the year off and just go, ‘OK’, and just ride the wave off of that one for a little bit.
We’ll figure out what we’ll do again in 2010 but, I’m sure once we’re getting into January we’ll start
kicking around ideas and I’ll go out to New Orleans. We’ll come up with something. I don’t know if…it’ll
be different; let’s just put it that way.
Jesse: I know Vegas is a little easier to plan because everything is a little closer together I understand
Houston was a little difficult to plan around because the smoking ban was going into place.
Jon: Houston was, I got to be honest with you, and I don’t know any other way to put it, than to say
Houston was a pain. I mean, we went out, to Houston to scout that place probably 5, 6 times before the
show? And um, yea you’re right. The problem was there were no smoke friendly venues, and when you did
find one, it was 30 minutes away. There’s not a big enough venue that allows smoking, well we found one
that was. We had to charter, 20 luxury buses just to get everybody from point A to point B, and, that was a
hassle in itself, just the logistics of that. So, I mean Houston was really a challenge.
Jesse: I had a good time there a lot, and really enjoyed that party, my fear there was, all those people at 3 in
the morning riding back on that bus. Someone’s going to puke and it’s going to start a chain reaction.
Jon: *laughs* I heard some stories of a few people that got on the buses going back. I was lucky enough to
go back in the limo at the end of the night. I heard all about the horror stories the next day.
Jesse: This Rock and Rolled Tour idea, getting back to that; it all spawned off this tattoo, wasn’t it?
Jon: That tattoo was kind of the genesis of the whole tour in a roundabout kind of a way. In May, I went up to my tattoo artist with Thor from Cigar Press and he had this great idea. “I want to feature you in the Summer issue but, let’s do something a little bit more, ‘out of the box’ kind of
thing.” And I’m all, “Yea I’m all about that, that’s fine.” And he said, “Why don’t you get a tattoo and we’ll do the interview around the tattoo?” and I said, “Alright.” A couple months prior to that we had a meeting with Kid Rock, and we were in our office for, I don’t know, a good 3 hours or so and he and I at one point, started comparing tattoos, and he had this one tattoo on his back and
it was that same eagle motif and up at the top it said ‘Kid Rock’ and underneath it said ‘American bad ass’, and I thought, “Dude that’s really cool.” So I started playing with the idea and I was like, ‘Wow, what about ‘CAO’ and ‘Rock n Rolled’ and that sort of came to me. With every tattoo I have done I think about it and stick it on the refrigerator and if I still like it in 2 weeks I’ll get it done. So, I went up there and had it done, magazine came out there, and at the IPCPR, and the response was really good and people were like, ‘Aw man that’s really cool.’ In July or August, Frank Kapp, our national sales manager was in town and we’re out having dinner, drinks and cigars, and he says, “You know, we got to do something creative. Well what if we did something around that whole tattoo? Let’s do a rock tour and make this kind of fun, and make it go in the way it would if you were putting a rock band tour? ” I’m like, “Yea that’s cool. Put it out to your
sales guys and see what they think and let’s go from there.” So that’s pretty much what we did and, some of the guys got back to me, ‘such and such account will let me do it’, and so once we got the initial green light, then it was just a matter of designing some merchandise and deals, and the cigar actually fit in really nicely, so, that’s pretty much how it all kind of came together. But yeah, it was all spawned by that tattoo.
Jesse: Just kind of talking about the industry a little bit. There has been another buy out here recently which caught me off guard.
Jon: Yeah, I was in Virginia when that happened. We found out that night. It was funny; I was with Shorty from Richmond at the Havana Connection. We all went out to dinner with afterwards and Shorty’s phone goes off and he looks at it and it’s Rocky. So I’m like, ‘What the hell does Rocky want?’ so he takes the
call and puts it back and says, “Rocky said Camacho just sold to Davidoff.” We’re like, “What?!” and all
the sudden everybody starts calling, everybody’s friends you know, so we start calling the guys we know at
Camacho, all the reps, and the reps are like, texting saying, “We don’t know anything, we don’t know
anything.” We found out they’re all in Miami, so, we kind of put 2 and 2 together and thought, there must
be something to this, and sure enough, a couple of, days later it came out and Monday the press release and
all that so it was interesting the way it kind of unfolded and kind of took everybody, a little bit by surprise.
Jesse: I thought it over for awhile and then thought ok, that might not be too bad a fit. You have a niche
missing in both their brands. Camacho’s the full bodied cigar, and Davidoff’s always been that old family,
mild cigar, always made this way, very upscale so, kind of interesting to see how this works over time.
Jon: I think that it’s a good fit and we have some good friends over at Camacho, so, you know I think the
best part was, at least something I read in the press, was that the reason why Christian decided to sell to
Davidoff was, so that he could keep his whole team intact. We all had friends that work for Camacho and
we’re like, ‘Aw man, I hope they don’t let them go.’ And this and that cause you just never know what’s
going to happen. So apparently that was the reason why he went with Davidoff over anybody else. Having
gone through that whole process, it can be a nerve wracking time for your team. All the sudden you find out
you’ve been acquired, so, alright, ‘where does that leave me?’ Then the dust kind of settles and you say,
‘Ok, let’s keep going.’
Jesse: I wanted to get an update, kind of, what’s going on with the tour. How has it gone so far?
Jon: I’ve been blogging it too. One thing I’ve been trying to do is do a little synopsis, try to make it fun. Kind of a voyeuristic approach with what happens with these things. It’s been neat to see how each, I mean we have a set program that we go in and do in terms of the deal, here’s what we’re going to do, you know. We pre-promote it, but every retailer, every stop; it’s had a different spin on how they do the actual event. One retailer actually had a live rock blues band
playing in the store. A five piece band and they’re wailing away. They’re smoking, drinking beers and buying cigars and you got this live band in the store, which I’d never seen. You know it seemed kind of odd, and I thought it was kind of cool. Then we had another guy, got a Keggorator had all these CAO Rock and Rolled branded cups, and everybody came in, killed the keg and, and that’s really what the whole thing was about the tour was, let’s make an in store
event fun again. You go into a retail store and they’re like, “Well hey we got Joe Blow from XYZ company here today doing an event.” And they’re like, “Oh, what are we smoking today? What are we sampling today?” You know? And it’s just like, it got to the point where I think people, customers where just expecting you know, “Ok where is my free cigar?” Ok and then they’ll smoke it and maybe buy a few, and it just got very dull. So each retailer has had their own way to make it fun. The Davidoff event that we’re doing on Madison Avenue. That to me intrigues me, probably almost more than any of them because if you’ve ever been to a Davidoff on Madison Avenue, it’s very elegant, a beautiful store. It’s gorgeous on Madison Avenue, Manhattan. All the sales guys are in suits and ties, and it can be a bit intimidating when you walk in there, you know, just to buy a cigar or something. The store manager basically says, “Well, I love this idea cause
maybe this will get people that would not normally come in my store to go, ‘Ok wait. If they got Jon Huber
in there in jeans and a t-shirt, and he’s got tattoos and, alright maybe this isn’t so bad.’” Then they’d go in
there and check it out and see what Davidoff is all about. So, we’ll bring in some new blood into that store
and, he’s going all out and he’s going to have, he said this’ll probably be the first and last time you’ll ever
see the staff in t-shirts and jeans cause it’s mandatory t-shirts and jeans so. I’m like, “Cool!” He’s going to
have rock videos playing on flat screens, and have, I think, Jack Daniels involved in it, in some way shape
Jesse: I hate to admit but I have yet to get to New York City. I grew up a little farther west of here so
Pittsburgh is about as far east as I’ve been. *laughs*
Jon: Oh man. *laughs* It’s a blast. I’ve been to New York more times than I can count probably, and I’ll
be up there on the 29th, then we’ll be back again the next month for the Big Smoke New York and, it’s just,
that town, that city, has an energy that’s, unlike any other city, really. You have to go there and experience it
for yourself. We always have a good time in New York. Good people. I like the people of New York.
Jesse: So they still have the Big Smoke in New York. I knew, I guess the one in Chicago has ended now.
Jon: Chicago got cancelled, almost at the 11th hour, but New York is still going on. I mean, I give hats off
to Cigar Aficionado, because apparently, the people, and the staff at the Marriott are not making it easy for
them to, I guess they grandfathered in or something, but even at that they’re trying to make it really difficult
for them to put this event on but, they’re bound and determined to do it so it’s going forward. It’s the
hardest Big Smoke to do from an exhibitor/manufacturer standpoint though because you have two sessions
in one day. You got the Big Smoke Vegas which is cool because they do it over the weekend so you fly in,
you set up, and you do 1 show. Then the next day you have a full day to rest and recover, come back that
night and do another show, and the next morning you pack up, fly out. Well in New York, you literally get
there, you spend a good bit of time setting up your display if you’re CAO cause you got like this, monster
display, and then you just basically have time to put on a suit, come back downstairs, do the three hour
show, you get like a half hour break, then you do another three hour show, then you have to tear the booth
down. So your day starts at 10 in the morning and then it usually end by the time you leave at 2 in the
morning the next day. So New York is tough, I mean it’s physically tough, but it’s fun.
Jesse: CAO did an event, kind of to make up for the smoking ban.
Jon: When the Chicago Big Smoke got cancelled we decided to still do something. We had just planned to
have Dick Butkus, an NFL legend basically, at Big Smoke Chicago, and then when we found out it got
cancelled, we’re like, “Well hell, let’s still do something.” So we brought Dick Butkus to Libertyville,
Illinois, outside of Chicago, it was pretty cool. He’s come to our office, he’s hung out with us and this and
that, and you go, ‘Wow it’s Dick Butkus.’ When you go see him, in Illinois or anywhere near Chicago, it
becomes, Dick Butkus the demi-god. People revere that man, so it was fun. We had a good time doing that.
We brought him up there and, he had a lot of laughs too.
Jesse: I just remember the, the viral video that was done for that.
Jon: Ernie saves Chicago or whatever? We had a lot of fun with the videos.
Jesse: That was an old samurai video you had dubbed over?
Jon: Yeah, the inspiration for that was from this viral video going around that was an old, World War 2
documentary of Hitler or something and it was all…you may have seen it already but uh…
Jesse: The Dallas Cowboys?
Jon: Exactly. And I mean it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen and I’m like, “We got to do something with
this. Well what if we did like, some kind of like, alright we got to find a public domain thing and so on.”
And so we did, and we found the video and we put a lot of time into it actually to sync the subtitles, and the
motions and the expressions of the characters and then come up with the story line and it took us a good bit
of time but it was fun. It was a good time.
Jesse: I’ve tried doing something like that before and it’s not as easy as, “Ah yeah! We’ll just do that.”
Then you start doing it and it’s like, “This is a lot of work!”
Jon: It is a lot of work. We have fun doing it and when we did that whole video to promote LX2 blend a
couple months before the July show and then Vegas. Everyone was asking, “How long did it take you to do
that?” I’m like, “Well, really one night.” Cause we did. We shot everything in one night. But then, editing
afterwards, and the music and then this and then that was 30, 40, 50 hours, just to get it down to just that
little 14, 15 minute video. But you know, I think that’s what keeps the industry fun. You just got to be
creative and inventive and do new things. I mean, how many times can you watch a guy roll a cigar. I get it,
but let’s have some fun with it. It’s a lifestyle thing so just keep it light and let’s have a good time, laugh,
smoke and carry on.
Jesse: That’s one thing I’ve noticed more and more, I mean you, CAO obviously has kind of been at the
forefront of doing something different. That you see more and more companies doing that now and there’s
more…I mean you’ve got guys out of L.A., Pete and Dion doing something a little bit different and, it’s
definitely changed the industry.
Jon: That was one of the things that Thor said, the interview that we did for Cigar Press. You’ve got
younger guys coming up that are kind of bringing their own spin and their own take and I think it’s great for
the business. If you’re not evolving, you’re basically going to get passed up. You got to constantly change
and, you know if you look at like, just entertainment in general, the artists that have the most longevity are
those that have actually adapted and changed. That’s no different than business. Business is the same thing.
If you’re a car company, you make the same car, you’re in, and you’re out. Everyone else is doing new and
better things. You got to keep evolving, definitely.
Jesse: I’d gotten hold of the samples of the LX2 at the show, and these are obviously part of the deal that if
you buy some cigars at the Rock-n-Rolled Tour. What’s been the feedback on these so far?
Jon: You know I’m waiting to see. I’d love to see more opinions on them cause, quite honestly that’s the
only place you can get that cigar right now is the Rock and Rolled tour. It was a great way to maintain some
buzz and keep that going until we actually get that cigar on the, hopefully in November. To be honest with
you, I haven’t really gotten a lot of feedback. I don’t really see a lot of chat around on the forums. I wonder
if some guys are just like, getting them, and putting them away, saying, “I’ll smoke this in a month or so.” I
know a lot of guys that do that and that could be the case. I’m just the opposite. I get a cigar and I’m going
to smoke it. “What? That’s like a 20 year old Cuban.” “Yea great, not anymore.” You know? I mean, cigars
are meant to be enjoyed. You’re not guaranteed to be here tomorrow so you might as well enjoy it today. So
I never really wrapped my head around storing stuff and aging it. I would love to get more feedback.
Haven’t really seen a whole lot. I’ve been smoking the hell out of them in the office but, that’s about it.
Jesse: I think I have, I was able to get hold of one there at the Party Source event and that’s, I mean I had
two from the show and they didn’t last long. I, they, I really did enjoy them. I mean, the America, ah, was a
little bit milder, or wasn’t quite what I was expecting was part of it. The LX2 was kind of what I was
expecting, you know, I was expecting a spicy cigar and I got a spicy cigar. The America, after I had it,
granted I tried it at the show, and I think, you know, by that 3rd day, by the time I got to your, the party and
tried it, I’d kind of burned myself out. So I couldn’t taste much of anything anymore.
Jon: The trade shows the worst place. Your palate gets shot and you’re smoking so many cigars every day
and you can’t taste anything at the show. I mean really, you kind of have to wait to get back and then, settle
in but, yea, I mean it’s one of the nice things about the LX2 is that we can give it away at the Rock and
Rolled Tour, and that size even, won’t be available when we actually have the product on the shelves.
That’s a 6 x 54 that we made specifically just for promotional purposes we did about 3000 of those, and
when vitola is on the shelves, it’s toned down to a 6 x 50. So you’re getting like a little beefier cigar during
Jesse: Yea that doesn’t really bother me too much. I’m actually not that big on the larger ring gauge cigars
but what it did interest me is that you’re actually going to be releasing it in limited edition at first, the
Jon: Yea, we’re doing a 7 ½ by 38 lancero. It’s only available in the humidors. That was part of a deal we
did for the retailers. If they bought in x amount of LX2, and we throw in the humidor with the lanceros. I
have a lot of good expectations because I think that’s a really hot size right now, and it’s a good smoke, so I
would not be too surprised if we didn’t see that in a box available sometime next year.
Jesse: I’m kind of excited about that because I’ve actually been surprised by it. I was always 5 x 50,
robustos, everything I smoked. But now it’s like, ok, coronas and smaller ring gauges are what I’ve been
leaning towards now, over time.
Jon: That’s the same with me. That’s why I was really happy that with the LX2 we were able to all agree on
dialing the ring gauge down a little bit because traditionally, a lot of our new releases have all been larger
ring gauges, 54’s, 56, and even 60’s. We just did an MX2 6×60 called Gordo. You know, that seems to be
popular with our demographic but you know, I’d just love to have a more traditional ring gauge. At least the
more we started talking about creating a spicier, full bodied cigar, I said, “Well keep in mind if you dial
down the ring gauge, that’s going to be more, the flavor gets more intense. It just gets just a little more
wrapper to the binder/filler ratio so you’re going to get more of what that wrapper flavor too. I mean we
played around with that blend a lot, played around with the sizes, and went back and forth for a good bit.
I’m happy with the final outcome; I mean it was, even when we thought we had THE blend, I remember
Tim bringing these samples in and you think, “Alright. This is It.”, smoke it, and I’m like, “No, no it’s not
it’s not strong enough.” He’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? Blow it through your nose” I said, “We can’t
release a cigar and tell people, ‘Well it’s strong, if you blow it through your nose.’” Not many people would
do that. And yet, that’s a good way, from a manufacturers stand point, to test the strength of the cigar, but
Joe Consumer’s not going to go, “Oh well, if you blow it through your nose, it’ll make you cry.” So then we
got to dial it up again. We went through about 2 or 3 revisions and we just kept making it stronger and
stronger. Plus once a cigar rests it mellows. A cigar is stronger when it’s just off the bench. Once it sits, it
kind of settles and it’s going to round out a little bit so you really want to get it to the point that it has
enough structure and enough body that even after it sat and rested for a few months it would still have
enough kick. So, and I’m confident that it does.
Jesse: I mean, I’m definitely excited, I mean, one of your favorite cigars up to this point has definitely been
the Brazilia, and this one is kind of, this one MAY nudge that down a slot.
Jon: I love the Brazilia too, but to me it’s consistent and you know it’s going to be cigar to cigar. To me it’s
like this overwhelming predominance of black pepper. Which is great, if you want something, you just ate a
steak, you want something spicy and bold, grab a Brazilia? Now the LX2, to me is a little bit more
complex, it has a sweeter finish. So it’s got that same, pepper, but it’s got sweetness to the finish as well.
Jesse: I thought of cayenne, where you got that sweet heat. Kind of like a red pepper.
Jesse: Alright, well that’s all I’ve got, Thanks for taking the time to do this Jon.
Jon: Thanks Jesse.